Southern Family Road Trip: What to See, Eat, & Do


Southern Family Road Trip!

Ever thought about packing up the car and heading south when the cold weather whips up? Or maybe you just want to experience some Southern Charm just a few miles down the highway from the Big Apple. Follow along as my family of three hit the road in search of a kinder gentler way of livin’ on an epic nine-day road trip spanning from NYC to Atlanta. Believe me when we say this: There were warm and friendly people everywhere along the way.

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NYC to Washington, D.C.

It may take a solid four hours to get from here to D.C. but our nation’s capital, the so-called ‘town between two rivers,’ is worth the wait. There’s an expansion kick in place that can’t be missed. New neighborhoods are cropping up and there’s much to be learned in this rapidly changing city that’s always been anchored in the workings of our federal government.

Photo by Gaylord National Resort

Stay: At Gaylord National Resort tucked along the Potomac River and a mere water taxi ride to Old Town Alexandria, it’s all about family fun. The resort sports a well-maintained Junior Olympic-sized pool and 20,000 square foot Relache Spa, the glass elevator up to the 19th floor boasts views of the MGM National Harbor and its Capital (ferris) Wheel. 

Food: No trip to D.C. is complete without a stop-off for Ben’s Classic Chili Dogs (served with mustard, onions and spicy homemade chili sauce) at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a Washington landmark since it opened in 1958.

Learn: There’s never enough time to soak in all the knowledge available in D.C.— the Smithsonian group of museums are massive and filled to the brim with interesting exhibits — and all this learning is made easier thanks to the fact that many of the museums are free. For example, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, visitors can explore American history through the lens of the African American experience.

Washington D.C. to Durham N.C.

After yet another four hours on the road, you’ll be ready to exit the highway and explore this very quaint college town, home to Duke University, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and a host of tobacco warehouses that have been transformed into shops, workspaces and restaurants.

Stay: To immerse yourself in the downtown, book an overnight stay at The Durham Hotel, a bank turned movie theater turned hotel that serves an epic breakfast and, parents take note: Coffee is brought to your door every morning customized to the roast you like best.

Food: No trip to Durham is complete without a meal at Dames Chicken & Waffles. You’ll not only experience a hearty dose of southern charm you’ll also walk out stuffed from the Chicken and Waffles, all paired with smears (flavored butters) and drizzles (flavored syrups).

Photo of Museum of Life and Science

Learn: In this college town, the museums are well worth a visit. For example, at the Museum of Life and Science, your kids will love visiting Magic Wings, one of the largest butterfly houses on the East Coast. Visit the Scrap Exchange and see recycling brought to life in exhibits that promote creativity, environmental awareness and community through reuse. Coast, over 60 species of live animals, and more.

Durham, N.C. to Asheville, N.C.

Another three-plus hours down the road is a place you’ll want to stay overnight. It’s Asheville, a quirky city located at the nexus of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Smoky Mountains that feels like a cross between Burlington and Berkeley. There’s just tons to love about this very walkable town.

Stay: To get a real feel for Asheville, you’ll want to stay right downtown. Our pick: Hotel Arras, a Kimpton Hotel that’s as fashionable as it is welcoming to pet owners and parents alike.

Food: If you’re missing a classic NYC BEC (bacon-egg-and-cheese), you’ll find a tasty one at City Bakery but this one will be served to you on a biscuit — you’re in the south after all! Dinner at Bargello, located at the Arras, is a can’t-be-missed, too, with such kid-friendly fare as house-baked focaccia, pizzas and mouth-watering cacio e peppe.

Learn: While you’re downtown, visit the brand-new Asheville Art Museum or take chocolate factory tours at French Broad Chocolates. Just outside of town: the Biltmore Estate, an 8,000-acre estate that’s the largest privately-owned house in the U.S. and features gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed Central Park). Your kids will love the craft demonstrations, carriage rides and farmyard tours.

Asheville, N.C. to Atlanta, Georgia

You’re now used to three hours drives so get set for yet another three-ish hours behind the wheel as you head to Atlanta. This booming metropolis is sophisticated and bustling, and, if you can, plan to stay here for a few days to truly get a sense of this city, which boasts the state’s Capitol.

Photo of Loews Atlanta 

Stay: There are so many choices when it comes to finding a place to spend the overnight while you’re in town. Some family-friendly options include The Whitley, a Southern Belle of a property in nearby Buckhead that features an indoor saltwater pool and is located just steps from LEGOLAND Discovery Center Atlanta. Opt for an overnight stay at Loews Atlanta if you want luxurious accommodations tucked in Midtown amidst the impressive skyscrapers that abound downtown and Piedmont Park, just a block or so away. If there are any baseball fans in your family, you will want to spend time at the Omni Hotel at The Battery which (literally) overlooks the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park.

Photo by Pancake Social

Food: The answer to the dream of eating pancakes all day long is here in the form of Pancake Social, which features heaping stacks of 11 varieties of flapjacks, including lemon ricotta pancakes, chocolate pancakes with chocolate ganache toping and a big pecan praline stack. House made citrus vanilla and mixed berry syrup are the icing on the hotcake. Or if you just have to have another biscuit, head right to The Flying Biscuit Cafe, a mini-chain of restaurants featuring some of the best fluffy pastries in the region.

Ponce City Market

Learn: Once home to Sears, Roebuck & Co. distribution center, Ponce City Market is a must-see. Located in Old Fourth Ward, plan to head right to The Roof for boardwalk-style games, rides, mini golf course and panoramic views. Other must-sees including Centennial Olympic Park, a 21-acre park where the 1996 games were held, CNN Center, the World of Coca-Cola where you can take a look at works of art and interactive experiences related to the soft drink, including a functioning bottling line, all of which culminates in a tasting of 100 samples.

Atlanta, Georgia, to Charlotte, N.C.

To visit Charlotte AKA ‘Queen City’ — located three-plus hours north of Atlanta — is to love her. The home of the Carolina Panthers, this city is on the rise with the buzzing that comes with new construction, new venues and new/cool neighborhoods to visit.

The Ballantyne

Stay: At The Ballantyne, the entire family will feel the relaxation that comes from staying in a four-star resort that oozes charm. It offers a little bit of everything for everyone. We’re talking an indoor grotto-inspired pool and whirlpool (and a spacious outdoor pool when the weather’s nice), golf and a spa, too.

Food: While you’re in town, consider it a must to taste the salt caramel brownies baked daily at Amelie’s French Bakery. Or, venture to Optimist Hall, a textile mill turned food hall, for buffalo chicken tacos at Velvet Taco or one of the best grilled cheeses ever at Papi Queso.

Learn: It’s said that a half million people visit Discovery Place every year as it’s considered one of the best hands-on science centers in the nation. At the Mint Museum, located in a building that once housed a branch of the U.S. mint, you’ll experience one of the finest art museums in the Southeast.

Charlotte, N.C. to Richmond, VA

It’s another four hours on the road if you’re driving nonstop to Richmond but, not to worry, you’re about to arrive in another intriguing capital city. Richmond is most definitely a city of neighborhoods.

Omni Richmond

Stay: If views, a perfect home base to explore and comfy accommodations are what you’re after, the Omni Richmond is an ideal pick. Just think: You can spend all day walking this historic city end to end and then take a dip in the indoor pool.

Food: There are so many yummy restaurants in this city, including Heritage, which features such local fare as pork ‘fries’ and fried VA oysters and Kuba Kuba, a local Cuban favorite serving huge portions of empanadillas, kid’s quesadillas and paella. Venture to Carytown, a quirky shopping district packed with vintage/consignment shops and take a break from your shopping with lunch at Home Sweet Home, a ‘grilled cheese pub,’ known for their homemade tomato soup and decadent sammies.

Learn: Whether it’s a trip to the Metro Richmond Zoo, which features more than 2,000 animals representing 180 species from around the world, or a walk through the Poe Museum (Edgar Allen Poe was raised here), there’s more than enough to keep the entire family busy and engaged while you’re in this super-friendly city.

Richmond, VA to NYC

Once you leave Richmond, you’ve got some driving ahead (try six hours on I-95 if you want to know the truth). Still, the trip will go fast. Just plug in a family-friendly Podcast and revel in all the memories you made as you prepare for a return to the busy Big Apple or make plans to hit the road in another direction next time you have nine days to spare!

Throughout this trip, our accommodations were complimentary but all thoughts and opinions are our own.